Cobalt Begay paced his room in the Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff making phone call after phone call, running up the bills. He had just come from the Mojave Desert working on another Ford/Wayne Western, The Man Who Shot Several Cowboys, and was scouting locations for their next project, a World War Two movie called The Longest Hour and a Half. Next to him, Teresa Thorn waited for him to hand her the phone when he finally made it through to somebody, anybody, in Japan. He had worked with Thorn as a translator before, and liked her. She was professional, hard-headed, and easy to work with.
Cobalt used to think he would never find an easy coworker again. In the other room, John Ford was busy consoling John Wayne because he had just seen a ghost. Wayne was flabbergasted and kept calling the ghost a dirty son of a bitch for peeking in on him. Ford worried that the Duke would be seen afraid of a ghost, and everybody knew the Duke wasn’t afraid of nothing, even if John Wayne sometimes was. Thorn, thought Cobalt, would have looked the ghost in the eye and told it to shove off. She wouldn’t take the ghost’s shit, Cobalt knew, and that was why he liked working with Thorn. She was in her fifties and unmarried, and he had never met an unmarried woman in her fifties. It made him feel better about being an unmarried man in his thirties.
“I’ve reached a monastery,” somebody from the consulate told him after a long pause. “They have a small beach space in their possession. Maybe you can convince them to let you use it. Is your translator ready?”
“Sure. Here you go,” Cobalt said, passing the phone over to Thorn, who took it and began speaking Japanese in a clear, confident voice. Somewhere down the hall, a door slammed, and Cobalt rubbed the aching spot between his eyes.
Cobalt’s job was simple: secure an authentic Japanese beach so Ford could film a quick war scene; the rest, as Wayne put it, “can be done on our turf.” Scouting locations used to be easy work. Between assignments, he preferred to be back in Arizona on his family’s ranch listening to music on the radio with his sister, or reading National Geographic, which his uncle collected by the boxful.
Back in the ‘30s, when Ford and Wayne went to Kayenta to film Stagecoach, they went throughout the town talking up how great it would be to have some authentic Indians in the film. Some real-life Indians, Wayne shouted. “Some Apaches to make it look nice and real.”
Kayenta, a mostly Navajo town, relented. Yes, they would supply a cast of extras and let the team drive into town truckload after truckload of equipment, horses, fake coaches, then blow up little mounds of rock with dynamite to get the trucks through the valley, then accidentally burn down a house, slaughter a few of Jeremiah Yazzie’s sheep in the process, and use up the year’s supply of water for twice-daily pre-filming showers. The movie, they were later informed, was a huge success; the Diné extras were uncredited. Cobalt wasn’t content to play an angry Apache, though. He made his way around the set during filming, around the lights, the rows and rows of vehicles, all the way to John Ford’s pitched tent, where the man sat drinking tea and looming over sketches of scenes he wanted to film, juxtaposing characters, coaches, and landscape. Ford squinted over the top of his sunglasses and frowned, unused to extras approaching him.
“Lost, kid?” he asked.
“I was wondering if you’d like to film more movies here.”
Ford looked around at Monument Valley, the towering buttes, the infernally blue sky fading into the parched red desert rocks, the endlessness of shrubbery and cacti. He had fallen hard for the place.
“Well sure. It’s pretty around here, and very authentic. People look at those mountains,” he said pointing to a butte, “and think of real cowboys and Indians.”
“I can help.”
Ford felt that he was being politely patient with this teenaged Apache kid excited to have Hollywood stars in his backyard. He was impressed with his tenacity and grasp of English. He pulled off his sunglasses, regretting it soon after as the sun sliced down on him, enriched by the multitude of truck mirrors, windows, and hot metal.
“How do you mean?” said Ford.
“Well, if you need a good river place for a river scene, my uncle owns some land near a river. I know a guy who has a little patch of land down south where some Mexicans live if you want that kinda Western.” He’d seen Westerns of all kinds: cowboys versus Indians, cowboys versus Mexicans, cowboys versus bad cowboys. He was determined to be something other than an Indian who gets shot by John Wayne. He wanted a different kind of shooting, and figured he could start at the bottom and work his way up. “I can get you these places real cheap.”
Ford liked cheap.
That afternoon, Cobalt returned to his house and announced in Navajo to his family that he got a job working for Hollywood. His father Alberto congratulated him, and his mother Nona asked him what kind of job it was. Cobalt looked at the mutton soup his father was preparing for dinner and then at his mother, who was bandaging the blisters on his younger sister’s palms, left by the rough gloves she wore while mending one of their fences after a truck from Hollywood had driven through it. Jasmin, his sister, did not say anything but turned to Cobalt, like their parents, and waited.
Cobalt had first heard the word “consultant” when his uncle used it to describe a visiting BIA agent years ago, and it was the only word Cobalt could think of to describe the work he would be doing for John Ford. Cobalt’s family praised his new consulting job half-heartedly, skeptical that it would provide anything other than more Bilagáanas making movies in their town. Jasmin joined her friends outside to chase a rabbit, Nona listened to the radio while weaving on her loom, and Cobalt helped his father clean in the kitchen.
In the following decades, he had become one of Ford’s primary location scouts, and worked regularly with John Wayne by extension. Despite his ambitions, Begay had only a handful of chances to act on screen, as a barkeep in Wanted: Dead or Mostly Alive, as a Comanche scout in Justice in Sister Outpost, even as a Japanese soldier in Wayne/Ford’s hasty 1943 war bond-advertizing classic Remember What They Did to Hawaii. Scouting, at least, paid well, and he mastered the scouting process, identifying locations, balancing budgets. What locations would be the most beautiful? The most exotic? The most believable? He learned to fake a lot of things, making California look like Iwo Jima, making Phoenix look like the O.K. Corral, making a Navajo man look like a Japanese man. His skills were perfect for Hollywood.
Lately, Cobalt’s scouting had become less advantageous. Wayne hired him onto Dick Powell’s The Conqueror, and while Wayne was busy dressing up like Genghis Khan, Cobalt was busy managing an abundance of phone calls from the Nevada state government about the filming location’s proximity to nuclear test sites. In Ireland, filming The Quiet Man, Cobalt struggled to keep Wayne from yelling at an Irish-speaking Connemara fisherman trying to get through the blockades around his favorite lake. For The Barbarian and the Geisha most recently, Wayne wanted the authenticity of Japan, and to his credit Cobalt managed to make the filming location the most authentically Japanese part of that flop.
Now working with Ford and Wayne again, who wanted to return to Japan despite their sudden plummet in popularity there, Cobalt could feel the dissatisfaction from both director and actor, who blamed him for the failures of so many of Wayne’s recent works. But working with Thorn, he secured a beautiful Japanese beach. The war movie would proceed as planned.
Sokatsu-Ji overlooked the coast, and was among the smallest monasteries in southern Japan. A novice nun named Jie marched up the stone steps in the rain, stamping her sandaled feet in the puddles that formed in the slumps in the stone steps in cloud-like shapes. She removed her wicker hat and knocked on the wood and metal doors, pressing herself against them to stay entirely underneath the narrow roof above, her only protection from the rain. Below her, the ocean coughed against the boulders on the beach. Jie waited, as was expected. She knew she would wait, and knew she would have to wait longer than other novices. Quilts of rain pelted her, even under the roof.
She knocked again, louder, calling out this time, “I beg your favor!”
The door opened half a meter, pushing her back into the rain. An older monk peeked out of the doorway and stared at her.
Delicately, Jie removed paper documents from the protection of her coat, careful to keep them out of the rain, and placed them before the older monk.
“I would like entry into this monastery,” she said.
The older monk smiled at her in a way she had not anticipated, and she tried to keep her discomfort invisible. He looked through the papers one by one.
“You are young,” he commented. “You look thin and frail. And. . . you’re from a temple in Nanjing?”
“You’ve had a long journey, then,” he said. She avoided eye contact. “How are things in China these days? I hope they haven’t burned your temple and given the robes to the Party.”
“I would like entry into this monastery,” she repeated softly, looking down. The monk returned the papers.
“I regret to tell you we are full at the moment,” he said, sneaking his head back behind the door. “And we need to be cautious about letting possible communists inside. Goodbye.”
When the door closed, Jie sighed in relief. She’d been expecting so much worse. She resigned herself comfortably on the step next to the door, sitting down with her back against the wall and knees up to her chin, folding her hands over her soaked feet, after having tucked her papers back under her robe. From there, curled against the cool body of the temple, she could see the ocean down below, waves climbing up the rocks and sand, and wind shaking overhead. In that vision she sought peace. In that vision, she wondered what her mother would think if she were still alive: her only daughter, her precious unrequested war-daughter, seeking refuge in a Japanese monastery.
Maybe the soldiers who sieged Nanjing had also sought refuge in a monastery when the war ended. It was a complicated world, and the possibilities were endless. The little fictions she contrived about her birth, horrifying as it must have been, were somehow entertaining. Her poor mother. Her poor city. All the terrible violations, and still she entertained herself with the possibilities when she should have been reflecting on Bodhidharma and the impermanence of her life. The dulled greyscape of the stormy beach soothed her to sleep and dreams of her mother, her homeland, her childhood.
Jie’s mother worked hard to keep her safe during the end of China’s Civil War and its aftermath, but passed away too soon when Jie was nine, leaving her the few skills she was able to teach her during their life together: patience, painting, and disinterest. Jie employed these to survive, especially disinterest in the affairs of others, of the state. After working in a factory here, a hospital there, she found it easiest to survive in a Buddhist monastery, which she came to depend upon as a new home. She became the youngest novice to advance as far as she did, and some among her suspected she would have found enlightenment if the Party had not forced the monastery to close during the Cultural Revolution. The monks and nuns went abroad with paperwork to other temples in Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Japan, and Jie found the easiest path was to Japan. On a boat off the Korean coast, Jie had tried meditating herself into peace, but could not find it. She was going to the country whose military attempted to rape every woman in her city of birth; her heart had pounded with the crash of waves.
When she woke up, the rain had stopped, and a monk stood over her. The doors were open and a band of monks huddled together on the beach talking to a group of mostly white people with large vehicles, some of which seemed stuck in the damp sand. Others worked to set up large tents in the muck. The monk above Jie was different from the one she had spoken with yesterday.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked. “We turned you away, and yet here you are. We can’t let you in at the moment. Go find another temple.”
He turned away. When the monks finally finished their conversation with the strangers on the beach, they passed her silently on their way back inside. One of them tossed a carrot into her lap. Such a kind gesture surprised her.
For the next few days, Jie watched a strange and lovely drama unfold on the beach. Every morning, a very large group of people in military uniforms aligned on separate sides of the beach while another group with cameras, fans, umbrellas, suitcases, lighting equipment, and a great deal of food stood between them telling them to move forward, hold up their guns, and imitate a war Jie had only heard about. She enjoyed watching the Americans rise up on the shore like angry waves, and then retreat with the tide, to be repeated. It was like painting brushstrokes of actors up and down the beach. She spoke no English, so the sounds the actors made offered her a kind of exotic ignorance. She took small pleasure in the rough, staccato sounds of their language, closing her eyes in the sensation of meaningless noise the way she would have taken pleasure in the sounds of the ocean if men had not been shouting “Cut! Again! Cut! Take two!” in front of it.
Every afternoon, the rain came again, and the crew hastily put their equipment in their vehicles, which were sunk into the sand and mud beyond any hope of moving until the rain stopped for a prolonged period of time. Then they stayed under tents eating food and drinking fresh water, occasionally getting into arguments with the monks about something Jie could not discern.
By the fifth day, the rain started in the morning, and Jie began to fear she would never be let in. Her limbs were almost numb, her bottom sore from sitting so much, her legs and feet stiff from staying patiently in place. Then the damp, dark stage of the beach vanished and become a part of her own life as the Americans marched up the hill through the mud and straight to the monastery, leaving their flooded tents and vehicles below. There could be no theater in this much rain. They sloshed to the monastery and knocked on the door, standing so close to her that she could smell the cigarettes and roast pork and gasoline they brought with them. For a long time, they waited in the rain, the whole cast and crew, next to her.
Jie was surprised that not all the Americans were white. The few films she’d seen from America showed only white heroes and villains. She was also surprised at how jagged and frail they looked, so different from the shiny, smooth, well-spoken men and women she’d seen in movies before the State began inspecting and censoring cinema. Here, they looked rugged, even broken. After many shouted in English, a middle-aged woman from the back moved to the front and shouted something in Japanese, to Jie’s surprise. Finally, she could understand something.
“We’ll take up your offer, Master Hui-neng,” she called. Her Japanese seemed excellent, though she too was white. Jie had only ever heard of Hui-neng. Had they met him in person? Communicated? What kind of rank does one require to use his name so boisterously? They did not seem to notice her at all, and she was grateful. She tried not to look real to them so they wouldn’t take any interest.
John Wayne twirled his umbrella over his head and stared forward at the temple doors.
“Dumb kid got us stuck in this mess,” he mumbled, refusing to even look at Cobalt.
Ford looked at his watch while Cobalt tried very hard to make Ford and Wayne stop existing by closing his eyes and picturing the atoms they were made of dissolving from their bodies like salt in water. When he opened them again, Ford had moved to the front with Thorn and banged on the door. Cobalt worried what the Duke would do. He’d been polite enough to the locals the last time they were in Japan, but now he was visibly angry.
“They promised us an authentic Japanese beach,” Cobalt said flatly. “They’re monks, not meteorologists. It’s not their job to know if it’ll rain.”
“You should’ve looked into it,” Wayne said. Ford shouted in English this time; Cobalt pictured a dozen Buddhist monks standing behind the door snickering at the loud Americans, wishing he could join them. The rain reminded him of the monsoon storms he used to enjoy back home, the late-summer downpours in his otherwise dry desert. On those days, his father and mother would watch the rain from the porch while Cobalt and Jasmin roasted piñon nuts saved from pickings in October with salt on the stove as well as hot chocolate, a gift from their uncle, while waiting for the storm to ease. Cobalt wanted the arid smell of the desert, the soft vibrancy of it when the wind picked it up and carried it from one dusty hill to another.
Stuffing his hands in his dungarees pockets, he looked around the monastery. It was smaller than he’d expected, and he’d been hoping for one of those giant wooden Buddhas he’d read about. Instead, he saw only a small wooden Buddha sitting next to the door. Then he looked back at the figure sitting against the wall staring forward.
“Uh, fellas?” he asked. They ignored him, so he pushed his way through the crew to the young man sitting in a position he thought differed from most Buddhas he’d seen. At least, he looked different from the pictures. He knelt down close to him. The man looked up, and Cobalt smiled. This monk’s face, Cobalt thought, was soft and round, very boyish, with hair cut extremely short.
“You probably don’t speak English,” he said to Jie.
Jie’s blood pumped faster and faster. What did this strange man want from her? Why was he kneeling down like that, dressed like a cowboy but darker than the ones she’d seen in movies? He had a round, thin face, and a neat, movie-star haircut with a precise part on one side, though he dressed in blue dungarees and a loose white shirt. His eyes were wide and fluttered from side to side when she shook her head, daring herself to smile faintly.
“I don’t speak your language,” she said softly in Mandarin, though Cobalt assumed it was Japanese. Cobalt frowned when he heard her voice.
“You’re a girl? Are you trying to sneak in and be a monk or something?” he asked. He had never read about women in Buddhist temples, assuming they were just as strict as the Catholic Church he grew up in. He squinted, as if the identity of the figure sitting below him were just a blurry photo.
“I’m probably bothering you,” he said. She forced another smile, and he stood up and turned to Thorn. By then, Wayne had moved up front. Before he could pound his fist against the door and call for the sons of bitches inside to open up or they’d nuke ‘em all over again, Cobalt said, “There’s a monk down there.”
Thorn looked down, finally noticing Jie, who stared straight ahead into the panes of rain pummeling the rear of the crew. Wayne, Ford, and a few crew members turned. Jie could see them in her periphery, trying harder to be uninteresting. Thorn finally asked in a gentle voice, in clear Japanese, “Excuse me, but could you please see if someone inside is available?”
Jie stared at Thorn for a second, then stood up, wincing at the pain in her legs and knees. “I’m sorry, I don’t have the authority.” Thorn blinked. Jie’s accent was familiar to her, but she couldn’t place it. Before she could inquire about it, the monastery doors opened. Thorn grinned at Master Hui-neng, an elderly man with an eye-patch, a limp, and a walking stick.
“Hell, mister,” John Wayne said.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you in person, Miss Thorn. It was you I spoke to over the phone, yes?”
“Yes, and you said on the phone you’d give us lodging if we needed it, if I remember.”
“So long as you don’t interrupt the order of things. I explained the rules,” the master said, “and I can refresh your memory if you need it, but I’m sure you won’t be a disturbance. Please, come in. We have plenty of room.”
The entire film crew entered the temple, shuffling in hurriedly past Jie. When they were inside, Hui-neng closed the doors without acknowledging Jie. Four hours later, a younger monk came out to see if she was still there.
“Chinese girl,” he said bitterly, “we’re full right now. Didn’t you just see? We can’t afford to take you in. Go find another temple.”
He held a stick of reeds in his hand, used to gently wake up monks and nuns who fell asleep during zazen. Though she was not meditating, he placed its edge on her shoulder, tickling her ear with it, and smiled. He held the long stick out, stroking her neck with it, and she stood and waited without blinking. Finally, he lifted the stick of compassion and thwacked it against her shoulder. It was, of course, painless. The intention was to remind, not to inflict, but what was he reminding her of?
“I’m half-Japanese, you should know,” she said brazenly. He pulled the long stick back.
“How is that?”
“You don’t know what your soldiers did in China?”
The monk frowned. She thought he was about her age. His eyes looked sunken, his limbs thin, his features gaunt and shadowy like he, too, had grown up in a war zone. His small mouth twitched, almost opened in response, but he stepped back into the monastery without another word. Jie leaned back against the wall and looked at the American trucks stuck in the mud.
Ford mulled over the script of The Longest Hour and a Half in a tiny room he shared with Wayne, cleaning his glasses habitually. Wayne was bitter that he couldn’t smoke and paced back and forth reading his battered copy of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. The pickles, rice, and porridge the monks had fed them over the past twenty-four hours had been saltier than he’d expected, and therefore tastier in Wayne’s opinion, but without cigarettes and alcohol he felt anxious. He felt less like the Duke and more like his given name, Marion, the side of the actor that Ford worked hard to keep perpetually behind the screen.
“There’s a riot in this one,” Wayne said, tapping a large finger into the pages. “Buncha Englishmen need to escape from China cause there’s a riot and they’re out for white blood.”
“Don’t make yourself paranoid around here, okay?”
“I don’t like it in here.”
“Neither do I, but they’re going out of their way to be kind.”
Wayne let himself slip out of Wayne.
“I feel so out-of-place here, John. It’s a difficult sensation to really express, but I feel so visible here. I feel without a mask, John, like they can discern my deceiving despite my best efforts, making it almost impossible to blend in, and you know, John, how I feel when I know people are watching me. I need a costume.” Marion grumbled at himself to make up for the slippage and frowned stoically at the book cover, becoming Wayne again.
Ford sighed and closed the script. The beach scene was only forty minutes. Thousands of dollars in travel, he calculated, plus delays, extra food, fuel, and time lost, all for forty minutes on an authentic Japanese beach. He wished they’d just painted up La Jolla, tossed in some barbed wire, and blown a few holes into the ground for good measure. Now he had to deal with Wayne’s pacing.
“Where’s Cobalt?” Ford asked.
“Haven’t seen him.”
“Do me a favor, then, and go find him. I want to see if I can stretch this into fifty minutes. Maybe we can get an establishing shot or something.”
“Fine,” Wayne said, dropping the book.
Wayne felt powerless in a suit and tie. Without a hat of some kind, a prop in his hand to keep his fidgety fingers busy, he felt exposed. Even his names were disguises, the Duke for John Wayne, John Wayne for Marion Morrison. Back in grade school, every time he was called Mary he would retreat into a book of plays, thinking he could become a great actor. Instead, he went to Hollywood, where he could convince everyone he met that he wasn’t one of those nancies who dressed as fairies for Shakespeare. He was a real, authentic cowboy-soldier, and nobody questioned him. Marion spoke rarely to him these days, and he hadn’t even brought his copy of Romeo and Juliet this time.
When he stepped into the hall, he worked on his saunter and his dead stare to become the Duke. The Duke paced the monastery thinking of Pearl Harbor and kamikazes and wishing he’d been accepted into the Navy. What kind of man, after all, doesn’t get accepted into the Navy? Mary, that’s who, he heard in his head. Mary, who gets hurt in a surfing accident and can’t fight properly. He sauntered onward, worried that the monks were watching him knowingly.
He stopped at a room where a few monks were painting. The Duke glanced inside.
“You fellas seen Cobalt?” he asked. They turned around. “I guess nonna you guys speak English, do ya?”
“I speak some English,” one of the older monks said. He stood in front of a canvas with a horsehair brush in his hand, its long hairs splintering out, dripping with thick black ink. The canvas in front of him was blank except for a long line that arched near the right side like a graph.
“Oh. Good,” the Duke said. “You know where Cobalt is? He’s the Indian boy we brought with us.”
“You brought an Indian with you?”
“Yeah, like the feather and tomahawk kinda Indian, though.”
“Forgive me, but I do not know what that is. A tomahawk, you said?”
“It’s like an axe, you know? You got axes in Japan? I know you got swords, I played one of you guys a while ago.”
“I’m sorry, I still do not understand.”
“You don’t understand axes? I thought axes were universal.”
The man held out his brush, smiling, and the Duke paused before seizing it. He looked at the paintings. Landscapes, mountains, beaches, forests, temples. Others were oddball pop art, the strange things Wayne had heard about in New York and London and Paris: shapes, circles, colors, simple figures with Japanese words in the corner. The brush looked large and unruly. He wondered if these could be the same people who attacked Pearl Harbor. He wondered if they even knew, if this old man had been here painting while the war went on. While the bombs fell. While the world changed around him, and here he was painting merrily away. Wayne pulled off his jacket and draped it over a stool in the corner.
John Wayne was not sure if John Wayne would paint with a bunch of monks. He was certain the Duke would not, and he knew for sure that Marion would love it. Who in the crew would know? Who in the crew would have to know? Back in the hotel room, when he saw the ghost, a ten-year-old bellboy trying to deliver room service to an unknown patron, John Wayne forced himself to be stoic, but in his head he ran through every line from Hamlet in which the young prince confronts the ghost of his father, but wondered if the bellboy was another kind of specter, the Marion he wanted to leave behind. The Duke would ignore such anxieties, but not even John Wayne could keep from thinking the bellboy was the ghost of his younger self.
Hours later, Wayne had painted over several canvases, chatting away with the monks about things they probably did not understand. He told them tall tales about the west, assuming they knew nothing about it. He tried painting the west as well, to make it clear to them just how impossible to navigate the terrain was, how only the truest men could conquer it. He told stories about his time on a wagon trail, about being captured by Indians, and politely told them about his being part of the invasion of Normandy rather than Japan. They asked him what America was like, even though one of the monks had access to The New York Times from a merchant in the nearby town. In exchange, he listened to the Japanese tell of their own war stories, and he listened with a clenched jaw, but the more he painted the more he relaxed.
When Ford finally came into the painting room, he looked at the canvases behind Marion, who saw him and forced himself to stop grinning.
“What the hell are those cartoons?” Ford asked.
“Just been painting with these fellas.”
“Yeah, but. . . those are yours?”
“These here. This one, this one, that one over there. . .”
“So the stick men doodles.”
The Duke stared like a dead man.
“If you wanna look at them that way, sure. Look, Pappy, I’m just distracting myself trying to tell them a true western. I been listening to their easterns, too.”
“If our stories are westerns, they have easterns.”
“Well, come on, we have work to do.”
“Just one more painting,” he said. “They were about to tell me about that kid outside that Cobalt pointed to.”
“Never mind that.”
“Look, Pappy, if it hasn’t stopped raining, there’s not much to do, is there? Just relax.”
“Just don’t worry about it. It’ll work out.”
“Did you even look for Cobalt?”
“Maybe go look outside.”
Cobalt was indeed outside, which Ford predicted, but Ford would not find him for a while. Cobalt had snuck outside to find the nun, who still waited outside the temple. He had stolen a bowl of pickles and rice from the kitchen and crept out of the temple’s entrance, and handed the bowl to Jie. She hesitated, not knowing if it was permissible for a novice to accept a gift from a guest if she had not even made it past the entrance. She finally took a few bites while Cobalt sat in front of her, staring intently. He stood up suddenly and went to find Thorn, whom he dragged out of the library and brought outside, assuming Jie would not be fluent in Navajo any more than in English. Thorn looked at Jie, then at Cobalt, and sighed.
“Mr. Begay, I think you should leave her alone.”
“But it’s not fair, her just waiting out here to join because she’s a woman. She’s clearly gone to all the trouble of disguising herself to fit in. She should have spiritual things too.”
Thorn chewed her lip for a moment.
“I don’t think that’s entirely it. They have nuns in there, you know. You didn’t see them?”
“So why is she out here?”
“I think you shouldn’t interfere. It’s her business.”
“Just ask her, please. I just want to know if she’s okay.”
Cobalt stared at Thorn, who folded her arms.
“You’re a nice kid, you know that?” she said. “You’re nice to worry about her. It’s a polite thing to do. But stop trying to be a hero for her. It’s not who you are. You’re not John Wayne.”
“I’m not trying to be John Wayne. I don’t want to be anything like him.”
“Not him personally, but you are imitating him.”
“I’m only working for him.”
“You’re working for Hollywood. He’s working for them too, though. Stop acting like you have to play a part in everybody’s lives. She doesn’t need you to help her.” Thorn had thought a long time about Jie’s accent, and figured it out after a while. She knew how the war had progressed between Japan and China. She knew how long it took for old hostilities to diminish. She didn’t have the heart to tell him any of these things, but she knew, at least, the basic situation. Jie was escaping, and she had made it this far, and she would keep going.
Thorn put her hands in her coat pockets and looked at the sea.
“I like this beach,” she said. “It’s pretty. It’s not what I would have expected. It’s Japan, but I like it better than what I’d built it up to be.”
Then Cobalt turned toward the ocean, wondering if his family would enjoy visiting a beach. He pictured his father running his toes into the wet sand the way he did in the dry red dirt around their porch on cool evenings.
“You’d think,” he said, “that scouting for a good place in Japan would be easy. Just pick some place in Japan and it’s got all you need to make it look real. It’s not that easy, though. I mean, most people who watch movies aren’t like you. They don’t appreciate things like this.”
She smiled to show her appreciation. Together, they went back up the steps, into the monastery. They passed Jie on the way, curled against the wall staring at the ocean in its eternal motion. They wound their way in the temple’s dark halls, dimly lit, scented with sharp incense, wood, salt, and wax, a pleasant collage. It took them several turns until they found the painter’s studio wherein so many monks and the crew were gathered. They were seated and standing in a shapeless mass looking inward, all together laughing, cheering, applauding, whistling. Ford stood with Master Hui-neng, who smiled calmly and held his hands behind his back. The translator and the scout joined the group after a moment of surprise.
In the center of the audience stood Marion, shirtless and painted in bright colors, with little flowers on his back and chest and faint circles like stars on his cheeks. His nose was painted a bright red. He stared forward, still looking as if he intended to punch an unseen foe, but he grinned as he recited, from memory, the dialogue between Romeo and Juliet from their balcony scene. He acted as both characters, tilting to the left for Romeo and the right for Juliet, speaking to these fictional halves in his own slow Shakespearean drawl. He deliberately let his voice rise when he spoke Juliet’s verses, and comically deepened it when he recited Romeo’s. Those in the room who did not speak English found his movements entertaining, while his crew, his director, his producers, his makeup and hair and stunt people all enjoyed the Elizabethan cowboy. In this way, Marion found he could satisfy everyone in the room, including himself.
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